WARRENSBURG — The Pizza Shop in Warrensburg mixes up about 180 quarts of dough a day in the summer. That’s 4,320 cups a week. And in the first year the Main Street shop was open, Giovanni Canepa alone made 42,000 pizzas, not counting stromboli and calzone.
“He won’t let anyone else make the pizza,” said Giovanni’s wife and Pizza Shop co-owner Maggie Canepa.
There’s a real science to making sure the pizza is delicious from the first bite to the last, Giovanni said.
“Someone else might make it with the same dough, sauce and cheese and it doesn’t come out as good. It’s not that they don’t know how,” said Giovanni, 31, who started making pizzas with his family in Sicily. “I have a special ladle and it’s the way you distribute the cheese. There’s a science to it.”
The recipe Giovanni uses comes from his grandpa, who created it more than 40 years ago. It has been passed on from one generation of pizza maker to another.
“He started a pizza revolution in my family,” Giovanni said, laughing. “We are all running pizza places.”
Giovanni’s family independently runs about a dozen pizza establishments in the Northeast. In New York, there are shops in Lake George, Glens Falls, Burnt Hills and Ballston Spa; and in Vermont, they are located in Montpelier, Plainfield and Stowe.
Only in business for a little more than two years, The Pizza Shop has already earned several Reader’s Choice Awards in The Post-Star‘s 2017 Best of the Region rankings: Best Pizza, No. 1; Best Wings, No. 2; and Best Business Lunch, No. 3.
“It’s a little bit of a dream come true,” Giovanni said. “And we have a really amazing staff. We trained them well, but we would not be here without them.”
What makes The Pizza Shop’s pizza so good?
“Love,” Giovanni said. “We have customers who say, ‘I’ll have a large cheese with lots of love.’ ”
That same kind of love drew Giovanni and Maggie together while Maggie was still a student at Lake George High School.
And it was love that led them on their pizza-making adventure.
“It’s been a crazy, crazy journey,” Giovanni said.
A real love story
The couple first met when Maggie was about 14. Giovanni did not speak English at the time and their connection was brief. “We met for a split second. I thought she was super pretty,” Giovanni said. “But she was so young.”
Then in 2009, Maggie traveled with her friend, Giovanni’s cousin, Miranda Rovetto, to Italy for a visit. Maggie was 17 and a junior at Lake George High School.
“Then she shows up in my town,” Giovanni said. “After that, it was history.”
But it’s about 4,350 miles across the North Atlantic Ocean, over Portugal, Spain and the Tyrrhenian Sea before arriving in San Guiseppe Jato, a long way for two people in love.
“We lived over Skype,” they both said, adding that they arranged their daily schedules around their Skype time together.
“They are six hours ahead,” Maggie said. “His work break was from 2 to 4 p.m. That’s 8 a.m. here.”
For her senior year, instead of attending Lake George, Maggie simultaneously finished her senior year and freshman year at SUNY Plattsburgh. “I then took as many online classes through Plattsburgh as I could so that I could finish my degree while living with Giovanni in Sicily.”
But as love stories often go, there are naysayers.
“I come from an old-school town. A lot of people doubted us because she was so young,” he said. “They thought it would never work out.”
But their love only grew stronger.
Spend even a few minutes with Maggie and Giovanni and their deep soul connection will be evident.
“People love our story and seeing us here every day,” he said. “They like seeing my face and seeing my wife’s face, seeing us here together.”
After living together for two years in San Guiseppe Jato, the couple moved to New Jersey because there were so many visa issues for Maggie, who had to keep renewing her visa every few months. While in New Jersey, she finished her English degree at Montclair State and graduated in the summer of 2013.
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“I interned at a property management company when needed, but mainly focused on my studies, while Giovanni financially supported us,” Maggie said.
Giovanni interrupted. “My wife is brilliant,” he said. “She’s an amazing writer and she graduated with a 3.9 … I want her to be able to go back and have a master’s degree.”
Maggie smiled and said that she wanted to work with Giovanni at The Pizza Shop. And maybe someday she would write their story.
Taking a huge risk
In San Guiseppe Jato, Giovanni owned Jhonny & D Pizza Ristorante.
In New Jersey, he worked for other restaurant owners making pizza.
“I had two jobs in three years and then I got laid off,” he said. “I was like, ‘I cannot do this for other people.’ I thought, ‘I know what I’m doing, I want to open our own place.’ “
So the couple began scraping together money. They sold all their furniture. “We got all the money we could,” Giovanni said.
They found a place they were going to lease in Warrensburg. There were too many pizza places in New Jersey, Maggie said, adding that a pizza restaurant had just closed in Warrensburg.
“I thought we could fill a void,” she said.
Then Giovanni did something that propelled their path forward. He bought the big-ticket restaurant equipment they needed, like the oven and refrigerator.
“I was so scared,” Maggie said. “We moved out of our apartment in New Jersey on Oct. 1 and thought we were moving to the location of the old Gino’s, but it fell through.”
“I tried to get the money back from the credit card company for the equipment deposit when we realized we didn’t have a space.”
But a quick scramble got them a Main Street lease.
“I found the listing on Craigslist almost immediately, and we secured the space in mid-October and started renting on Nov. 1,” she said, adding that it was a dress shop.
As they shopped for restaurant furniture, they realized how much everything cost and money was dwindling. “I found the idea on Pinterest,” she said about the tables they would buy and refinish.
“We found these at Lowe’s,” she said about the heavy, unfinished picnic tables with attached benches. “Giovanni sanded, stained and polyurethaned them.”
She points to the black wire napkin holders in the middle of the table. “I got these for $1,” she said. “They were $30 in the restaurant supply.”
But even with finding innovative ways to pull their dream together, by December 2014, they did not have the rent money for January.
“The day we opened (Dec. 29), we had no money for rent. We had $274 and some change and we had all these debts to our food supplier,” Giovanni said. “From our very first day, we were able to pay the rent.”
At 11:15 a.m. opening day, their first customer walked in: Matt, two slices and a soda.
“I said, ‘Fifteen minutes from opening and we already have a customer,’ “ Giovanni said. “We laugh about it now and Matt still gets the same thing.”
Being able to pay the rent and the food vendors was just the beginning. For the first nine months they worked 16-hour days, seven days a week. And then summer arrived and they didn’t feel like they could take off then.
“Our first day off was Labor Day,” Maggie said. “We didn’t realize the potential of Warrensburg.”
Maggie said she has met the nicest people since they opened. “I feel really, really grateful, we have the best customers,” she said. “Watching the little kids grow … customers come in and tell me about work. It’s like family.”
Because of their success, Maggie and Giovanni were able to buy a permanent home for The Pizza Shop at 3918 Main St.
“We bought the building last month. We do have a substantial amount of renovating to do, but likely won’t begin until after the summer busy season dies down,” Maggie said. “At first Giovanni was going to try to do what he could in terms of renovations on Mondays. But we don’t have the time, so we will be hiring a contractor to complete the work. We hope everything will be done in early 2018 to make the big move.”
Nonetheless, even with all their success, Giovanni said he tries to focus on the present.
“I take life as it comes, take it as it is,” he said. “So far, it’s been a funny ride. I am looking forward to the surprises of the future.”
Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli is a features writer at The Post-Star. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments or story ideas.